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May 14, 2015
Please feel free to contact me with any concerns or opinions you might
Office Phone: (608) 266-7505
Toll-free Phone: (800) 361-5487
P.O. Box 7882
Madison, WI 53707
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neighbors and being involved in our community is of the utmost
importance. Some community events that might be of interest to you and
your family are listed below.
The Milwaukee Ballet Presents: Cinderella
Date: May 14 through May 17
Description: The classic journey from servant to princess takes
on added luster through the creative lens of Michael Pink. Delight in
fairy godmothers, glass slippers and a pumpkin carriage that all
conspire to deliver Cinderella to an unforgettable world of fantasy,
love and beauty. All of this is punctuated by dancers from the Milwaukee
Ballet School and Sergei Prokofiev's magical score performed by the
Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra.
For more information call 414-273-7206
Marcus Center for the
929 N. Water St.
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Sign up for the GO
Pass at senior and community centers
dates throughout May and Jun
The Milwaukee County Transit System's (MCTS) free transit pass, known as
the GO Pass, is available for eligible seniors or persons with
disabilities. The pass allows all Milwaukee County residents 65 and
older unlimited free rides on MCTS buses. The free pass will also be
available for residents with disabilities who meet certain requirements.
MCTS will be traveling
to senior and community centers to help process GO Pass applications.
CLICK HERE for a list of locations, dates, and times.
Overnight at Milwaukee Public Museum
May 15, from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Saturday, May 16
Museums are full mysteries waiting to be solved. Every year experts
unravel new discoveries about ancient cultures, creatures, and the earth
itself. During MPM's Mysteries Unraveled Overnight, you'll help
explore mysteries MPM thinks they've solved, those they working on, and
some that continue to baffle them. All the fields of natural science and
human history come together at the museum, and you're invited experience
800 W. Wells Street,
Milwaukee WI 53233
Walk to Cure
May 16 from 9 a.m. to noon
There is no registration fee for the Walk to Cure Arthritis. All are
encouraged to participate to help the Arthritis Foundation raise both
awareness and funds for the organization. Anyone who raises $100+ will
receive a commemorative Walk to Cure Arthritis t-shirt!
CLICK HERE for more information.
3233 E. Kenwood Blvd.
Milwaukee WI 53211
Inc. Presents: Spaces & Traces
May 16 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Explore one of Milwaukee's most vibrant areas: the Layton Boulevard
neighborhoods. Experience great architecture including Frank Lloyd
Wright and Alexander Eschweiler. Take a guided tour of the interior of
five private homes, the beauty of the School Sisters of St. Francis St.
Joseph Center Chapel and the Frank Lloyd Wright American System-Built
homes. Other tour locations include both interior or exterior tours of
apartments, a church, a fire station and commercial properties. Travel
from room to room and learn about the fascinating history and
architectural significance of these neighborhood gems.
For more information and to purchase tickets, CLICK HERE.
Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,
Last week, the Senate Committee on
Labor and Government Reform heard from the public and voted on a bill to
repeal Wisconsin's prevailing wage standard. Thankfully, one Republican
on the committee listened to the hours of testimony from Wisconsin
workers and joined Senator Wirch and I in voting against this
Also last week, the nonpartisan
Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) released revenue projections for the
next two years. It was unfortunate to hear from the LFB that they
anticipate a continued anemic economy.
Additionally, a Republican proposal
was unveiled last week that seeks to further dismantle our Milwaukee Public
School system. While many of the details of the proposal were left out,
a first glance at it reveal many concerns.
Continue reading for details on the
aforementioned, and more, such as a information on the bird flu, a
proposal to decriminalize marijuana, and money-saving tips in honor of
Building Safety Month.
State Senator, District 7
Effort to Lower
On Tuesday, May 5, the Senate
Committee on Labor and Government Reform held a public hearing on Senate
Bill 49 with the Republican chairman intent on repealing Wisconsin's prevailing wage law,
which has protected Wisconsin workers for 80 years. There
were hours of public testimony from business leaders, local contractors,
and experts on the construction industry. During the course of the
hearing, it became crystal clear Wisconsin workers and businesses do not
support dismantling another protection for Wisconsin's middle class, which has been critical in creating a top-notch
construction industry in our state since the 1930s. This system is
effective in delivering quality work, by a fairly-compensated,
well-trained Wisconsin workforce, at a price that is mindful of our
shared, public investments.
Bottom Line: Prevailing Wage Repeal will not Save Money
The facts and evidence make clear that
repealing this worker protection won't save any money. Prevailing wage laws ensure we have
well-trained, skilled workers, who give the taxpayers the best deal by
doing high-quality work, efficiently. In fact, under the prevailing wage
law, Wisconsin is the third most productive in the country and the best
in the Midwest in terms of our workers getting things done right and on
time. Pulling prevailing wage out by the roots is morally and
economically the wrong direction for Wisconsin.
Click here to see the study that ranked Wisconsin workers best in
While proponents of Senate Bill 49
claim savings to the state as a reason to rid Wisconsin of good jobs and
decent pay, these claims are disingenuous. In looking for these savings,
the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) even stated
"the evidence on prevailing wage effects generally range from relatively
small effects to no statistically significant effects." The LFB did
a study of studies and took
into consideration several of the frequently referenced studies in
completing their analysis.
To see the LFB memo, click here.
Additionally, at the hearing, a respected researcher
-- Dr. Peter Philips -- who has been studying the construction industry
for almost 25 years, confirmed repealing prevailing wage would not only
fail at saving taxpayers' money -- but would also hurt our entire
construction industry. He went on to ask committee members if we want
Wisconsin to be a high-wage, high-skill state or a low-wage, low-skill
state. I think the majority of Wisconsinites recognize that making a
good wage in these tough jobs is crucial to ensuring we have quality
products that are completed by skilled Wisconsin workers, rather than
being under-cut by out-of-state workers who will produce a less quality
product. This is a fundamental question on the role of state leaders and
what we should be working toward in our state.
For more on Dr. Philips' findings, click here.
Wisconsinites Struggle in Walker and GOP Anemic Economy
The facts from other states show repealing prevailing wage will drive
down wages, promote the outsourcing of workers, lower productivity
levels, decrease workplace safety, and restrict access to health care.
It will ultimately prevent people from being part of the middle class
and reaching the American Dream -- an already increasingly rare
commodity in our state. Hardworking Wisconsinites are struggling under
the failed policies of the governor and his Republican allies in the
Legislature. In fact, it was recently unveiled that Wisconsin has the
fastest shrinking middle class of all 50 states. Instead of facing this
reality, Republicans in power pushed repealing a law that helps ensure
jobs go to local workers whose families shop at local businesses, thus
strengthening local communities.
Click here to read a blog post about Wisconsin's shrinking middle
Senate Bill 49 Fails to Pass
The committee that took up the prevailing wage repeal bill was the Labor
and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Senator Steve Nass, who was
also one of the bill's authors. There are two Democrats --
Senator Bob Wirch and me -- and three Republicans who that sit on the committee.
Before the public hearing on Senate Bill 49, one of the Republican
senators voiced his opposition to repealing the decades old law.
Then, on Thursday, May 7, the committee held an executive session to
vote on Senate Bill 49 as well as an alternative to the bill --
introduced as a substitute amendment. The substitute amendment, put
forth by Senator Nass, would have repealed the prevailing wage law for
local government projects, but kept a version of the law in place for
state projects. Under the alternative plan, the threshold for applying
the prevailing wage law on state projects would rise from $48,000 to $1
million for single-trade jobs and from $100,000 to $5 million for
At the executive session, Senator Wirch and I voiced our opposition to
both plans, as they would only further the alarming income inequality
Wisconsin is facing. When the substitute amendment came up for a vote,
it failed on a 3-to-2 vote, with one Republican joining Democrats in
opposition. The original version of the bill failed as well. Despite not
getting an affirmative vote in committee, the GOP legislative leaders
have moved it to the Committee on Senate Organization, which means it
could still be scheduled for a vote by the full Senate.
Even if the Legislature does not take up this bill, changes to
Wisconsin's prevailing wage could still end up being slipped into the
state budget, which is expected to pass sometime in June. Should this
proposal, that will hurt Wisconsin workers, families, and local
communities, come to the Senate floor in any way, I will continue to
side with workers. We have seen a pattern by this Republican-run
government to demonize middle class families so we must remain vigilant
for any future attacks on the middle class.
No New State Revenue
to Fill $2.2 Billion Budget Hole
week, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) released their
revenue projections for the upcoming biennium. Much to the state's
disappointment, the LFB determined there will be no new revenue growth to
salvage Walker's sinking economy.
This blow comes despite a growing economy nationally and significant revenue growth in
neighboring Midwestern states like Minnesota, which is expecting a $2
billion surplus. It's clear Wisconsin continues to fall further behind because of
failing GOP policies. Neighboring states like Minnesota are flush with cash and
are reaping the benefits because they have invested in their public
schools, raised wages for families, and expanded access to affordable
health care. Republicans in Wisconsin, on the other hand, have been busy
selling out our state to special interests and campaign donors and have consequently created
a self-inflicted $2.2 billion projected deficit.
Instead of focusing on Wisconsin's traditional shared values over the
past five years, the Republicans in power have been consumed with
historic slashes to education investments and denying our neighbors
access to basic health services and family-supporting jobs, while at the
same time widening tax loopholes for the wealthy and corporations.
As discussed in a previous Larson
Report, if our state were to refocus our priorities and use our state's shared investments
responsibly, we could prevent the draconian cuts to K-12 education, the
University System, and save other vital programs like IRIS, BadgerCare,
Family Care, and SeniorCare.
In order to achieve this, all we need to do is accept the Medicaid
expansion funding, limit special interest and corporate tax giveaways to
the current levels, and use the portion of the school levy tax credit --
that goes to corporations and people who don't live in Wisconsin -- to
instead reinvest in a better long-term future for Wisconsinites.
As many can see, Wisconsin's middle class has shrunk more than any
other state in the nation. This is simply unacceptable. It is my hope
that Republicans will see the light and reach across the aisle to work
with Democrats on policies that will help Wisconsin families. It is time
to end the regressive era in Wisconsin politics and get the state moving
For more on the savings that could be achieved through the
aforementioned avenues, click here.
Privatizing Public Education
Late last week, two suburban
Milwaukee Republican legislators put forth a memo outlining legislation
that would continue the Republican pattern to privatize and dismantle
public education in the city of Milwaukee.
Here are the main tenants of their proposal:
- The new school district would
be run by an unelected bureaucrat for an at-will term and would
be appointed by the Milwaukee county executive
- The commissioner would operate
independently from the democratically elected public school board
- The commissioner would receive
great power but would be free of most state and local regulations
What is upsetting to citizens is this plan would do nothing to
address the problems of Milwaukee's lowest performing schools. When
looking at the facts, by far the lowest performing schools in
Milwaukee are the very voucher schools that could potentially be
able to take over these MPS schools under this proposal. The
Darling/Kooyenga plan might have been an interesting idea in 1989
when the state first introduced vouchers, but it's 2015 and our city has
had 25 years of this failed private voucher school experiment and spent
over 1 billion in taxpayer dollars.. It simply doesn't work and we all
This is more of the same tried-and-tired legislation. Their proposed
solution to the problems facing MPS is to replicate more of the
causes that helped create the problems in the first place. MPS has
made significant strides in student achievement through an
initiative called Commitment Schools. We are seeing positive growth
in the very schools the Republicans are targeting to remove from the
district. Positive change is occurring, it should be promoted and
encouraged, not undermined. Instead of recognizing the gains made by
MPS Superintendent Driver in her less than a year on the job,
Republicans want to pursue an agenda and model that has been tried
and proven to be a failure.
Looking at Similar Initiatives
Around the Country
We can look to other states across the nation, such as Michigan,
Tennessee, and Louisiana and see the results of so-called "recovery
districts." Recently in Michigan, a similar attempt to
"turnaround" the Detroit Public Schools may leave taxpayers on the
hook for over $50 million a year, out of the state general school
fund to cover debt, which affects the Michigan's overall school
investment capacity. If the Wisconsin proposal includes the state
taking on long-term financial liabilities from the Milwaukee Public
Schools, it could result in long-term financial consequences for all
Wisconsinites, adversely affecting our schoolchildren.
In Memphis, Tennessee, where a similar state-run effort is underway,
there are struggles to locate committed school operators. In New
Orleans, Louisiana, the nation's oldest "turnaround" school
district, results have been miserable. They ended up lowering the
quality of education, perform worse than what's left of their
traditional public schools, and in the end will cost the state
millions of dollars to eventually fix the mess they created, all at
the expense of their childrens' education.
Public in the Dark Over Proposal Details
Many important details of this proposal are still a mystery and have
not been provided to the public, to the Legislature, or even to the
county executive who is supposed to be in charge of this new entity.
The outline of the plan that has been made public include no
substantial details on how it will be funded, what performance
metrics will be used to measure the success of both the schools and
students, what types of services will be provided to students, or
even what basic qualifications would be required in order to be an
educator in the schools. These are important details that we deserve
to have before we make decisions that impact our children's
education, future, and ultimately the success of our communities.
Given the proposal's massive scope and impact it will have on the
city of Milwaukee, any proposal that make such sweeping changes to
our children's education deserves a serious and honest public
debate. In the days and weeks ahead, we welcome the opportunity to
share, in detail, our concerns with our Republican colleagues. It is
our hope they will take a step back, be transparent about their
intentions, and engage with members of the community, MPS, members
of the Legislature, and most importantly the parents and children
that will be directly hurt by their decisions.
Despite the best intentions of the county executive to make a bad
situation less bad, this plan is another step to dismantle and
privatize public education in Milwaukee. Like the expansion of
statewide vouchers, eventually this model will be spread to the rest
of the state and should make everyone who cares about our
neighborhood schools and our children deeply concerned. This is not
just wrong for Milwaukee, this is wrong for Wisconsin.
Making schools whole? What's really happening
In addition to a complete overhaul of MPS, we've heard from a lot of
Republicans over the past week that their top priority in the state
budget is fixing the governor's proposal to further cut $127 million
from our public schools in the next budget. They have also claimed that stopping the
most-recent proposed cut would somehow make education "whole."
To be clear, continuing to underfund schools after historic cuts is
hardly making our schools whole.
According to the conservative Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, per
pupil school funding in Wisconsin remains less today than in 2010,
despite the rising costs to school districts for transportation,
technology services, and utilities. Without significant additional
investments to make up for inflation and lost revenue, local schools
will be forced to continue this current downward spiral of cutting staff, reducing education
services, and holding local referendums just to keep the lights on.
Notably, former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson actually
established the principle that -- at the very least -- we must fund
schools to match the rate of inflation. This principle continued
until the recession of 2007. However, while former Governor Doyle --
like governors across the country --
had to make some tough choices in budgets between 2007 and 2010,
he still invested in education because it is a part of our state's
shared values, and directly influences economic security and
prosperity. Governor Walker has since abandoned these values.
So what would it take to start us down the path of actually
making education whole?
Here are a some basic standards the state should adopt:
- Increase per pupil funding by
at least the rate of inflation so schools can keep up with the
rising costs for basic needs like books, school lunch, supplies, and
services they provide our kids.
- Increase the reimbursement
rate for special education. Over the past decade, the state has been
cutting back it's share of the cost of educating kids with special
needs. That means more of the burden falls on local taxpayers and
can lead to decreased services for some of our most vulnerable
- Invest in initiatives proven
to increase student achievement, such as SAGE and the Milwaukee
Mathematics Partnership. Both programs are proven to reduce class
sizes and increase student achievement in math, reading, and
science. Unfortunately, these programs have been cut drastically or
completely eliminated in recent budgets
- Ensure all students are
equally invested in, around the state. There are some school
districts receive zero dollars in per pupil aid from the state and
others that receive upwards of $15,000 per pupil. This is an unfair
formula that needs to change so we can begin valuing all of our kids
These are things that would
start to put the state on the right path, and are basic
standards that school districts are asking for, but Republicans
have refused to do.
And if they were really serious about providing our kids with
quality education, they would need to stop the expansion of
vouchers and independent charter schools that takes money out of
our traditional public schools.
We have now seen three Republican budgets under Governor Walker.
In each budget, Republicans have continually cut back on their
investment in the future success of our children. Polls show the
public agrees that education
needs to be a true priority for Wisconsin. Our local public
schools deserve better than to have their funding cut or frozen.
It's time our state get serious about making education "whole"
and commit to make real investment in our schools and the future
of our children.
I often have neighbors contact me
looking for my perspective on various local and state issues. I very
much appreciate our neighbors' questions and want to dedicate a portion
of my newsletter to common questions that I hear to maintain an open
dialogue. Please continue reading for this week's question.
Q: I saw the news article about the snowy owl that died from the
avian flu. What is being done about this disease and should I be
A: Thank you for the question and concern. The first case of the
highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5, commonly called Avian flu
or H5N8, was detected in the United States on December 19, 2014. In the
last 5 months, it has rapidly spread across the United States, primarily
along the migratory pathways of wild birds.
This lethal bird virus originated in Asia and is now found across the
United States. Officials from the Center for Disease Control have
indicated that there have been no cases of this virus affecting humans
here or internationally, so the threat to human health is considered
low. While not a direct threat to humans, it does pose a serious threat
to farm and wild bird populations.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been working with
state agencies to test birds; track outbreaks of the virus; and minimize
the spread of the virus to our commercial egg, chicken, and turkey
farms. In just 5 months the virus has led to the loss of over 30,000,000
farm-raised chickens and turkeys nationally.
For updates on H5N8, visit the USDA website by clicking here.
Wisconsin has not been immune to the spread of this virus. The recent
discovery of the snowy owl's infection and death confirm that the avian
flu is affecting both agricultural and wild birds in Wisconsin. Here in
the Badger state, the Wisconsin National Guard has worked with Emergency
Management and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and
Consumer Protection to depopulate commercial poultry flocks that have
become infected. To date, 1,765,008 chickens and turkeys have died as a
result of H5N8 in four Wisconsin counties at 10 different farms.
As we grapple with this new disease, poultry farmers -- from large
commercial operations to our neighborhood backyard coups -- need to
review their "biosecurity" practices. Biosecurity practices, such as
monitoring the health of their birds for any signs of illness,
quarantining new birds, washing hands, and prohibiting interaction
between captive and wild birds, are practical techniques to help stop
the spread of disease.
If you have questions about biosecurity practices, click here to
Strong efforts to restrict the spread of H5N8 is important because of
the potential death of wild birds, agricultural loss and costs, and
because viruses can be genetically volatile. As expected, the USDA has
already identified two new variants of the avian flu, as it has
genetically blended with existing avian flu viruses in our country.
I appreciate the question and share your concerns. I will keep
monitoring our response and continue to be supportive of efforts to help
our farmers and bird enthusiasts protect Wisconsin birds.
Incarceration, Saving Money Through Marijuana Decriminalization
Marijuana prohibition is a leading cause of mass incarceration in
Wisconsin. Further, arrests and convictions for marijuana can result in
lost jobs, suspended driver's licenses, and restrictions on access to
federal student loans.
The number of people, especially
African Americans, incarcerated in Wisconsin over nonviolent drug
offenses is simply immoral and unjust. There is a 5-to-1 disparity of
African Americans arrested for nonviolent crimes compared to their white
counterparts. Our state is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on the
prevention of victimless crimes, while our community is facing
persistent problems of violent crime. Nonviolent felonies cost Wisconsin
$30,000 per inmate per year. Wisconsin can be a leading state in
reducing incarceration rates and being more mindful of our public
Recently, two separate pieces of legislation have been introduced to
restructure the way Wisconsin would handle marijuana possession. One
proposal, LRB 2298 would remove burdensome penalties from low level,
nonviolent drug offenses while leaving open future doors of opportunity.
LRB 2298 would eliminate the penalty for possession, manufacturing, and
distribution of marijuana if the amount possessed, manufactured, or sold
is no more than 25 grams. It also prohibits the establishment of
probable cause for possessing more than 25 grams of marijuana based on
odor alone. Finally, this bill changes how law enforcement determines
the weight of marijuana. Traditionally, the weight includes total weight
of marijuana plus the weight of any additional substance found with it.
Under this bill, only the weight of marijuana may be considered.
A second proposal, LRB 0188, circulated by Rep. Sargent, would legalize
and regulate the production, sale, and use of recreational and medical
marijuana. This legislation would permit a Wisconsin resident over the
age of 21 to possess no more than half an ounce of marijuana and
eliminates the prohibition on possessing or using drug paraphernalia
that relates to marijuana consumption. This bill would also create a
process by which a person may obtain a permit to sell and grow
In addition, this bill would create a regulated medical marijuana market
within the state of Wisconsin. The Department of Health Services (DHS)
would create a process by which a patient may obtain a permit to
purchase marijuana from a compassion center. These centers are nonprofit
corporations licensed and regulated by the DHS to distribute, grow, and
produce medicinal marijuana with the help of marijuana-focused research
facilities. The facilities will test medical marijuana for contaminants,
conduct critical analyses of the effects of marijuana use, and provide
training for safe and efficient cultivation, harvesting, packaging,
labeling, distribution, security, and safety.
Marijuana decriminalization or legalization efforts are gaining steam
across the country. Colorado and Washington legalized recreational use,
while Alaska and Oregon recently adopted similar measures. Right now,
there is legislation in New York and Arizona to fully legalize, as well.
New Mexico and Delaware are considering legislation to decriminalize
low-level possessions. In addition to introducing LRB 2298 with Rep.
Barnes, I am also a cosponsor of LRB 0188. I hope to see both of these
proposals advance through the legislative process, as a responsible step
forward in reevaluating our marijuana laws.
To view a copy of LRB
2298, click here.
To view a copy of LRB
0188, click here.
May is Building
Building Safety Month, was founded
by the International Code Council and is celebrated worldwide during the
month of May.
Building Safety Month is a public awareness campaign to help
individuals, families, and businesses understand what it takes to create
safe and sustainable structures. Each year, this campaign stresses the
importance of adopting adoption of modern, model building codes, a
strong and efficient system of code enforcement, and a well-trained,
professional workforce to maintain the system.
Below are 10 tips to help
individuals save energy and money by practicing green and sustainable
(Click to Enlarge)
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